woman-editing-copy-on-laptop.jpgWhen a customer presents you with a script that has grammatical errors, missing words, or poorly phrased sentences and the like, do you edit the text to make it more comprehensible for you and the intended audience on behalf of your client?

You may find that a client has unwittingly hired a voice talent and an editor.
We’re out to find out whether or not massaging copy is a service commonly provided by voice over talent.
Read one voice actor’s account and add your views to the conversation.

Your Story Ideas at Work

In December of last year, Paul Plack contacted me with a story idea for the VOX Daily blog, the same story which you are about to read below.
After you’ve read Paul’s story, I invite you to comment with your thoughts. We are both excited to hear your thoughts and think it would be interesting to document what goes on industry wide. All perspectives are welcome.

Massaging Copy : To Do or Not To Do?

Submitted by Paul Plack
I did lots of small voice projects in the 1990s, but have focused on a few big, steady accounts the past few years. Now that I’m actively pursuing smaller projects again, I’m reminded of an issue which can take the joy out of our work – bad writing.

Not surprisingly, I notice this most in the lowest budget tier. I’m not referring here to the radio and TV commercials with copy which doesn’t match the specified length, lacks imagination, contains tongue-twisters or just sells the product poorly. I can cheerfully crank those out like anyone else. I’m talking about grammar or other defects which make it tough to understand the copy, and tougher still to convey meaning to listeners.

In some cases, writers who normally work in print are tasked with turning out copy for spoken-word, and it winds up filled with parentheses, abbreviations, or sentence structure which preclude sounding natural. By the nature of their creative process, talking books often pose this problem. Sometimes, we’re given copy lifted directly from a print ad, and it’s clear nobody has even tried reading the script aloud before sending it out. The worst cases make the reader sound foolish and unprofessional.

I was once given a photocopy of a client’s ad from the yellow pages of the phone book as copy. I saw one request for bids which provided no copy at all, and expected the voice talent to create his own! I can think of various approaches to this issue. If you’re busy enough to be choosy, you can simply decline to bid. If you’re feeling charitable, you could offer to touch up the copy, at the risk of offending the client.

I recently worked with an international client who doesn’t use English day-to-day. The copy was generally very well done, but used a few figures of speech which sounded a little stiff or forced. I suggested a few changes, and apparently did so with enough tact that the client welcomed the input. But, I ran at least some risk of losing the job, especially since I made the suggestions at the audition stage.

How do we handle this?
Do you feel taking the time to massage copy is an unproductive use of your time? Would you rather risk offending the client, or put out work which doesn’t meet your standards? If you offer such suggestions to clients often, how many clients were alienated, and how many were appreciative?
Paul Plack

Do You Have Anything to Add or Say About This?

Looking forward to your reply!


  1. If you don’t make the necessary corrections, I believe you are doing yourself and your client a disservice. I would never (knowingly) record anything that was grammatically incorrect or incomprehensible. If I don’t understand it, how is anyone else going to understand it?
    If the client is turned off by the corrections, then that person is someone you probably don’t want to represent anyway. Remember, the finished product is a reflection of YOU and your client.
    Rick Sykes
    Sound Crafter, Inc.

  2. Hi gang,
    Since I jumped back into VO in October, I am getting my feet wet again with only six months experience. But when I see poor written copy and small grammar errors, or bad phrasing, I will edit the copy to flow better and indicate on the notes what I’ve done.
    If it’s one or two words, I change it and let it ride. I think it would be a great benefit if you can post the replies you get that can help us. As voice talents, it helps us to see what others do with this issue. Thank you.
    Mike Achen

  3. Although I am new to this field, having begun my acting career just 3 years ago & am only now looking to get into voice over work, I was a professional salesman for 34 years. It is my experience that you can’t appear in need of the job & you must be true to yourself. Therefore, if I get poorly written copy as described, I would, as professionally as I could, explain that I can not read it as written and ask if they would like me to make some changes in the copy.
    Bill Rapp

  4. As did a number of you I spent years doing production in the radio industry. Most of it is slam-bang, last-minute stuff with the sales rep. cautioning you that “this copy has been approved by the client and we can’t change ANYTHING”. The result is sometimes a tune-out for the listener and an embarrassment for the voice talent. Fast forward to today when, if a client gives me poor copy, I can ask to alter things to correct the defects. If the client says no I just suggest that another voice talent would be the right choice for them and send them on their way. Never feel bad about passing up a opportunity to embarrass yourself.

  5. The answer is unfortunately: yes …frequently!!
    Many times the copy is so sloppy, it would be embarrassing to produce it for the client.
    We never charged for it and almost every time we were burned in some way. I remember a German client presented us with a “Hypnosis” script….sort of a guided meditation.
    The English was so poorly written, we offered to rewrite it. It added a day to our delivery date…the client excoriated me in the feedback for being a day late.
    We do not do any editing any longer.
    David Rodwell
    Silver Tongued Angels

  6. What an excellent, well-thought out and relevant article! I, too, have wrestled with bad syntax, mangled word groupings. In most cases, for online auditions, I just simply rework it and present it in a more understandable form. Not to change the copy so much, but simply tweak the way it’s said.
    Herb Merriweather

  7. I once had a client who would have been happy to have me rewrite a rather lengthy short story. I made some minor grammatical changes when the sense was at stake. It was a delicate matter as to modifying stylistic “deficiencies” so best to read as is. I did not want to get into copy editing or co-authoring. Though I was tempted at so many points.

  8. One thing I learned very early in my voice over career was that you are a glorified “signal generator” to the clients. I had actually written, edited and critiqued ad copy as a marketing director for 10 years. So I offered some helpful hints to the client that would make the copy clearer and more effective. Big mistake. I got slammed in a way that would make Hulk Hogan quake with fear. So I quietly whispered to myself, “oops, better not do that again!” And I have continued that tradition up until today. But…
    There are some exceptions. Biggies that I’ll try to correct are singular subjects with plural verbs (The problem facing many families are difficult), malaprops (I have an important preposition for you) and stunt words (misunderestimated — sorry George W). I always “third party” my suggestion, saying something like “I’m not sure this is right. Is this a typo” rather than coming right out and saying “Did you make a mistake?”
    A new phenomenon has appeared lately. With the expansion of the internet and digital video, many producers have not risen through the tradition ranks of production, but have rather “ported in” from other disciplines and so may not be trained in writing good audio copy. They may not understand the subtle differences between written English and spoken English. And to be honest, I work with many producers for whom English is a second language. So if a sentence is run on, or it has quotation marks or abbreviations, or is just clumsy and extremely difficult to understand when heard I’ll suggest improvements. I offer these “suggestions” without any ego involved. If the client says “no” then I’ll read it as written. Orson Welles I’m not.
    I hope this helps every a bit and makes for smoother sessions with more professional results.
    I have much more information about the voiceover industry on my website if you click on my link below.

  9. Hello, everyone!
    Thanks for a great article today, Stephanie. It is a tricky thing to ask your client (especially if they are new) if you could edit their copy. Since YOU are the voiceover professional, it has worked well to write back and say you are “suggesting” a few changes for “better flow” or something that “sounds better to the ear.” I have been a copywriter and a teacher and it makes me crazy to leave anything in a script that is wrong. Many clients are not native speakers of English and really do appreciate the extra effort. However, a job posting with several typos is a huge red flag and says to me that this client doesn’t care to proofread his or her own job posting and it most likely won’t be a good experience. It also leaves me with a negative first impression and I will not audition for that job. But the same goes for all of us–be sure to proofread everything, and listen at least two or three times to your final audio file before you send it. They may make mistakes, but they still expect YOU to be perfect! Remember, it is YOUR reputation on the line, and that ONE spot that you let the grammatical error go is always the one that will run for the next ten years–right? 😀

  10. You have some good points Paul; however, I don’t look at bad copy as an intrusion per se. I think it gives me an opportunity to strengthen my skill set. I know we’re not career copywriters, but if we’re tactful, I’m sure the client would appreciate all the help he can get. He wants his message read with grammatical professionalism, and I certainly don’t want to come across as not knowing my craft. I mean, let’s face it. We are in the word business, and as they say. “You only get one chance to make a first impression”. If anyone feels that they don’t either want to take the time or effort, then don’t do the job. Simple as that. As one salesmen told me. Work is only work if you’d rather be doing something else. None of this is work to me. I love trying to build a business as well as my credibility. We’ll see you at the top. Onward and Upward.
    Steve Suekey.

  11. Grammatically incorrect copy is a pain in the neck, and I am so happy to read an article on this issue! A lot of my clients are not native English speakers, and often enough, their copy contains errors.
    When I go for a session at a local studio, I always point out any errors and suggest corrections. Since I’m getting paid for my time anyway, why not help out the client and record something grammatically correct?
    Think of it from the client’s point of view: If you were paying someone a significant sum for a voice talent to record a project, you would want the result to be good – really good!
    When recording from my home studio, I offer editing as an additional service. If the copy contains errors, and the client did not hire me to edit it, I will warn the client and remind them that I offer editing services. The client should at least have a chance to fix the errors before I record them and charge the client for useless work! If the client declines to hire me to edit the copy, they have to live with the results. (Still, if there are only a few minor errors, I will definitely fix them for free.)
    Client reactions to my constructive criticism of their scripts varies. Most clients are grateful for my input. Some are indifferent. (Imagine not caring whether your script contains grammatical errors!) A very few seem irritated, in which case I do not press the matter.

  12. Steve – I agree. Within reason, I find it worthwhile to provide a little tough-up, if it will result in a more satisfying project for me. I also believe our best shot at repeat business comes when we view ourselves not as widget-makers, but as team members hired for a few minutes at a time.
    Robin – Yes! Never say you’re “correcting grammar.” Ask if the client is open to slight changes which enhance the flow.
    Diane – Unless I was doing the job as an in-kind donation to a non-profit, which I know you sometimes have done, I’m not here to write. I have a little voice in my head which tells me if the meter should be running, and if it’s more than an occasional tweak, I pass.
    Stephanie, thanks for the platform!

  13. Hi,
    I remember one time my client gave me a really not so good Spanish script to voice, the information definitely did not make sense. Since it was a 32 second spot, I did it twice, one of how it was, and one with my correction. I did not take the time to tell the client that the copy wasn’t the best before recording, but when I delivered the final work, I explained why I was delivering two takes of it.
    That client was really thankful, and for the next jobs he is asking me for the extra charge if any correction are needed.
    I think we should help the client, but when the job is big, we definitely need to talk to the client before starting the recording session.
    Mauricio Perez
    A professional Voice!

  14. What a great article to read. Sloppy script is something I deal with regularly. A lot of my clients are not Native English and mostly have their scripts translated for them. Inevitably when I arrive at studio and quickly read through the text I find a few errors here and there. Since I’m generally the only ‘English’ pro in the studio, helping out with correcting the script is expected.
    If I see sloppy copy from a client who is Native English then I would rather not provide advice on how to fix the script.
    What’s most important for a Voiceover Artist is to get a ‘feel’ of the situation before offering script advice.
    Marc Chase

  15. The comments above are excellent. Perhaps the only thing I can add is this: I’ll do a few tweaks for free, if the client allows. If the script has major problems I offer my services to punch it up to make it easier on the ear. Sometimes they go for it. I get a better script to read, plus payment for the value-added rewrite. The per-page charges show up on the invoice as, “Script Consultation services”.
    In case this would be helpful for any of you, here’s an article I recently posted to my website about writing for the ear:
    P.S. These days many native speakers of English don’t seem to know the basics of the language. I’ve almost given up trying to teach people the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. “Press ‘F1’ and the screen will print.” (Really?! I wish I had known that before I bought this printer!)

  16. Great article! I am usually on the listening side vs. the performing side, and it’s amazing how different things come out when they are heard out loud as opposed to being on the page. I encourage our designers to speak the script before handing it over to me, and I still have to make changes. We scrupulously avoid words that can sound like something naughty, like “peanut”, “slot”, or “seamen”, but sometimes it isn’t obvious until the talent says it. As for accepting suggestions from the artist, we are generally open to them unless they are specific to game play or graphics, but there are ususally enough opinions from Design, Marketing, and myself!

  17. Like Marc, above, most of my local clients are not native speakers of English. It often amazes me that given the budget of a complete production – from location filming, VO, and post production – how little is spent on translation and copy writing.
    One has to be a little sensitive (in case the author of the translation is present), but I find that everyone involved is happy for the occasional change – usually it’s a missing article, or wrong tense. Make the changes with a smile and a comment that “everyone makes that mistake”, and there’s no problem.
    On the other hand I recently pointed out some horrendous metric-imperial conversion errors in a text, but at the time of recording these weren’t accepted. An additional payment was made when I was subsequently asked to correct these.
    As professional VO we have a duty to present ourselves well. If we don’t give the client the opportunity and help to correct glaring errors we are doing ourselves a disservice.

  18. Well, this goes back to one main component…know your client!
    I have a few clients that love the fact that I re-write their scripts a little. Others, not so much. We’ve all been in scenarios where the script was just just too much (length), or jumbled in structure, but sometimes the clients don’t care. It happens.
    I had one session where they wanted 160 words squeezed into a :30 spot. Guess who sounded like the micro-machine guy? But their client wanted all of it in. So it stayed.
    I have another wonderful repeat client who sends me scripts, I might re-hash them a bit and they love it. They look to me as the expert and I appreciate that.
    I’m lucky that I’ve written, edited, and developed a ton of scripts so that experience helps. Plus, having a professional copyeditor I can call on helps too! 🙂

  19. My method is to be upfront and to bring my concerns to the client as soon as I find them. So far every client I brought these concerns to have been very kind and receptive to my ideas. I usually start off by complimenting the work and then I follow up with the question about corrections. I explain to them that I want it to sound a little bit more natural. Most of the time after I’ve explained myself I’m given full autonomy and they even thanked me for the extra effort. If it turns out to be a lot of extra work you can even offer your services as a proofreader and raise your rate to compensate for your time. Either way, that’s my two cents.


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